PARENT EDUCATION – Dec 2008–June 2009

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June 2009

That’s Not It

Published by The American Club Swimming Association

Last week, we had a Mom come to us and “inform us” that her 13-year-old daughter would be gone for two weeks vacation in late June, maybe another week after that.

Her daughter was not much of an age group swimmer, but she has some endurance capacity and comes regularly to workout at 5:30 am and again at 5:30 pm daily. She works hard, demonstrates little talent, but lots of determination.

Her mother is not athletic and clearly does not value athletics. We expressed our dismay that she’d be missing for 2-3 weeks in the middle of the most important training of the summer. Her mother’s response?

“Who cares, she’ll never be an Olympic swimmer, so what does it matter really?”

This is a dagger in the heart to any swimming coach, and it is to me.

If we only cared about and worked hard with, those 52 people who will eventually, once every four years, go off to the Olympic Games, it would be a small, empty and meaningless sport.

My response was “That’s really not it.”

What is it?

It is the fact that young people need to learn to dedicate themselves to something that is difficult, something that requires perseverance, guts and the daily determination to get your butt out of bed and go out and push your body till it can’t go anymore.

Why do they need to learn this?

Because their lives are too easy, too soft, too catered-for. Too many people carry them, make excuses for them, never allowing them to try to be “heroic.” Is it “heroic” to get your butt out of bed and go swim at 5 am? It is if you haven’t done it before. Is it heroic to “make” 10x200 fly on 4:00? It is if you haven’t ever done it before. Is it heroic to finish your swim and turn around and cheer for the teammate who is even further behind than you are, and is struggling to make the set? Need I say it? It is if you’ve never done it before.

And that is what “It” is about. About doing what you haven’t done before. And learning that sometimes you succeed. Sometimes you fail. If you fail, you go again until you learn to succeed.

It’s not about being an Olympian. It’s about being Olympian. Learning to be a hero.

And what it takes to learn that.

Or, you can Be Comfortable and teach your child that its more important to Be Comfortable.

So, if that’s your choice, I only have one question?

What will happen to your child on the day when they are made “uncomfortable” by life?

Reply from George Block, Alamo Area Aquatics Assoc., Level 5 Senior

Your article really struck home as it reminded me of Robert Reyes – arguably the worst swimmer to ever go through our program – rescuing four of his buddies from choppy, night seas… a hero. Robert Reyes swam on our high school team and he was always the slowest guy in the race, but he would swim ANY race and go all out, all the way.

He was the same way in water polo. We have seven high schools sharing the same pool, so we don’t have any weekday games. Every Saturday they play 3 or 4 games, 3 or 4 hours of wrestling up and down the pool. Robert Reyes was always the slowest guy, but he would never quit. Even then, the real reason he was swimming was to help him when he went in to the Navy. He had his goal way back then and was preparing back “in Taft High School” for when his moment came. I told our kids that the famous Olympians actually have it easy. They know exactly when their moment is going to come. They can prepare precisely for that moment and they have a lot of help getting them there. For the rest of us it’s a lot different.

Your phrase to the mother, “being Olympian” hit it perfectly. All of us will have our “Olympics,” when the very best we can bring is called from us. We don’t get to know when that moment is going to be. We have to constantly prepare. We may have no one to help us. No one may ever know.

It may come like it did for Robert, as a physical test on a dark night, in choppy seas, with the flaming wreckage of a helicopter still floating in the water. It more often than not won’t be a physical test, but a moral one -- that integrity thing. I tried to explain to my team that the reason they have to prepare every day is because they have to be prepared every day. “Being Olympian.” That is it.

Man Rescues Navy Pals

By Amy Dorsett - Express-News Staff Writer

A San Antonio sailor saves four crewmembers after a helicopter crashes into the Mediterranean Sea.

A San Antonio Navy man came to the aid of four comrades in the choppy waters of the Mediterranean Sea last month, rescuing them after their helicopter crashed into the sea. Petty Officer 2nd class Robert Reyes, assigned to a helicopter combat support squadron aboard the USS Kearsarge, made the rescue June 22 when a helicopter flying a routine search-and-rescue mission crashed into the water. Reyes, 21, whose boyhood love of helicopters propelled him to enlist in the Navy three years ago, quickly suited up for what was to be his first rescue mission. Already feeling the rush of adrenaline, Reyes’ emotions were running even higher because the crewmembers were like family. “Just the day before we flew together,” Reyes said. “While I was dressing out, I was trying to calm myself down.”

Within minutes, Reyes’ helicopter was hovering in the nighttime sky above the downed chopper. Reyes, a trained rescue swimmer, jumped from his helicopter. “I started swimming up to them, seeing if they were alert,” Reyes said. One by one, Reyes helped each crewmember swim to the pickup point, where they were hoisted into the waiting helicopter. Navy officials say the four who were rescued are quick to call Reyes a hero, a title he brushes off. “When they say that, I just think I’m happy they’re there,” Reyes said, adding some of his water skills were acquired while on Taft High School swimming team.

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All-Weekend Swim Meets

Published by The American Club Swimming Association

One of the big issues is how precious the family weekend has become and whether the traditional all-weekend swim meet extracts too high a price. So this month our editorial contains ideas on rethinking our approach to competition from Coaches Amy Ayres and Phil Baker of the Seacoast Swimming Association in Dover, New Hampshire.

"There are more organized activities offered to children today than ever before. Our sport is but one choice among many for today's children and their parents. One aspect of swimming that particularly discourages many families is the long drawn out swimming meet. When discussing a little league baseball season with a 10-year old swimmer, he informed us that he had no practices, only games. Obviously this is not a solution for our sport, but when a child and his parents look at both activities, most will choose the least expensive in terms of money and time.

In order to keep our sport viable, we need to be willing to examine our popular meet formats and make adjustments. Split session formats that have been so prevalent, are adequate, so long as they are run efficiently, and kept to a four hour limit. However meets that are run at inadequate facilities can make any meet (split-session, dual, championship) a "nightmare" for swimmers, parents, and coaches.

Inadequate deck and spectator space definitely adds to general frustration with meets. One answer is to restrict small facilities to hosting meets involving a limited number of swimmers (i.e. 100 or fewer per session). For example, run a meet just for 10 and unders.

Concerning the topic of "who needs to compete," we should encourage only those young swimmers whose confidence level is high to enter outside competition. The decision on competition readiness can be reached in discussion between coach and parents. While a developing swimmer should get the experience of swimming all strokes and distances while young, it's counter productive to put them in events for which they haven't yet developed "legal" skills. Practice is the place for perfecting strokes.

One of the best ways to introduce competition to new developing swimmers and their families is the "intra-squad" meet, in which swimmers compete against their training mates in a simulated meet atmosphere. Allowing the young swimmer to reach a good level of stroke competence and competitive confidence will ease their introduction to dual meets with other teams.

Dual meets, where the interest and excitement level can remain high throughout the meet, and the time commitment and expense is limited, along with the potential for stimulating and different formats, are one of the most obvious solutions. Dual meets can be disadvantageous if their formats are too restrictive and if coaches and parents are overly concerned with the team's won-loss record, but with creativity and an enlightened attitude about using the dual meet as a developmental opportunity, they can be a win-win situation for all involved.

Dual meets can be set up within and outside the immediate geographic area to swim new teams and expose the swimmers to new people and places. Event flexibility with different formats, such as pentathlons, sprint meets, distance meets, relay meets, unusual events such as 300 I.M. (75 each stroke or drop a stroke) or I.M. with the strokes swum in any order of the swimmer's choice, etc. can all be great fun. The excitement in a dual meet will be created by the attitude of coaches and parents and the swimmers will catch on.

The recommended frequency of competition for young swimmers is once per month - never more than twice a month. At a young age the emphasis should be on practicing skills, not on competition. Not only swimmers but also their families can "burn out" on the sport if forced to compete every weekend. It's time for all of us in the sport to start saying "No" to the long drawn out "revenue meet" and promote more mini-meets, dual meets, and intra-squad simulated meets."

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Swimming Tired

Herb Huddleston, Long time coach, Orlando, FL.

One aspect of competitive swimming that many swimmers (and parents) have a difficult time understanding and/or accepting is what coaches call “swimming tired.” This mostly applies to senior level swimmers, but can also affect younger swimmers.

To understand fatigue, and its effect on meet performances, it is important to understand the “training effect.” Improvement in swimming (or any aerobic sport) is largely a result of the body’s adaptation to the stress of regular training. Of course, technique and skills are very important for peak performance, but for our purposes in understanding this element of swimming, we will address only physical training.

The body adapts in many different ways—the muscles become stronger, the heart pumps blood more effectively, and the cardiovascular system becomes more efficient in transporting oxygen to the muscles. These all contribute to faster swimming. Progress at the beginner or novice level comes quickly and is dramatically evident in large decreases in swimming times. As a swimmer becomes more accomplished, decreases in swimming times come in smaller increments, even though the amount of training may increase. When training is increased, fatigue may affect performances at competitions. However, swimmers may still be able to swim best times, in spite of being tired. Improved stroke technique, better starts and turns, more effective race strategies, and increased conditioning and strength can offset the fatigue that they have accumulated.

Coaches always encourage swimmers to swim at 100% effort and use their skills to overcome the tiredness.

So, why not reduce the large training load just before each meet, and allow the swimmers to be a little rested to ensure better meet performances? To optimize the benefits of training, it is best not to “interrupt” the continuous stress of training at certain times of the season for the purpose of swimming faster, for example at an early-season meet compared with the championship meets at the end of the season. These meets early in the season can be considered “practice meets,” where the swimmer gains valuable race experience and tests improvements in strokes and skills. A successful swim performance is not always just a fast time. Not resting for early-season meets will result in better end-of-the-season times.

This strategy can be difficult for the swimmer and parent to accept and can be frustrating. Often, other swimmers who do not train consistently will swim faster at early season meets, because they are not as tired. It is important that under these circumstances, the swimmers keep their ultimate goal in perspective, and that the parents empathize and support their children. The hard training of the early and middle part of the season will pay off at the end of the season at the meets that really count!

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Ageing Up

Published by The American Club Swimming Association

“My Eight Year Old Was The Fastest Swimmer In The Zone Until He Turned Nine. Now He Is Continually Being Beaten Since He Is The Youngest In His Age Group. How Can I, As A Parent, Keep Him Getting Discouraged?”

Answered by: Bill Thompson, ASCA Level 5 Age Group Coach, De Anza Cupertino Swim Team, California.

Every age group swimmer goes through the trials and tribulations of “aging up”. It is difficult for a swimmer, who was the top of his age group, to readjust to swimming against older and faster swimmers. Often times, a child will have difficulties swimming in this new age bracket.

It is important to communicate with your child’s coach when a situation like this occurs. When you feel that your child is becoming discouraged, you should inform your child’s coach of your concern. Chances are the coach has sensed the discouragement also. It is a common response to “aging up”. Remember how you felt as a freshman in high school, worshipping the upper-classmen from afar? After you have informed the coach of the problem, you and your child need to evaluate why he is participating in swimming. Your child probably became a swimmer because it was an activity where he was better than the average swimmer, he found it to be fun, and he could please you, the parent. He did not become a swimmer to win.

When your child is making the transition to an older age group, look for positive aspects, other than winning, such as improving his times, techniques and developing new skills. Changing age groups can mean the discovery of new talents, racing in different distances, new events and tougher competition.

Most importantly, no one in swimming has ever won all of his races. Only one swimmer can finish first in a race and sometimes we place too much importance on winning. A youngster is a winner when he can face a challenge, compete and try his best. Swimmers win when they set a goal for themselves and make a commitment to work towards realizing that goal. A well-balanced individual needs to accept defeat and disappointment as graciously as victory. How can one savor the “thrill of victory” without the occasional “agony of defeat”?

Encourage your swimmer to have faith in himself and his coach and he will adjust with time. I think it can be very good for him to believe he can win again…someday. If winning is important to him in the months or years to come, he will work for it.

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Age Group Swimmers And Tapering

From the American Swimming Coaches Association Level 3 Physiology School, Page 112, published by The American Club Swimming Association

In Age Group swimmers (prepubescent), a true physical taper is usually unnecessary. The muscle mass is not large enough in most cases, to require a great deal of rest, and it is characteristic of these young people that they have abundant energy.

The concept of taper can be introduced for 12 year old females and 13-14 year old males, as they get older and experience the growth spurts of adolescence. This is assuming that a normal level of Age Group work is being done with regularity by athletes of this age. It is important to discuss with them the nature of taper, what is getting physically improved and what to expect. One critical factor here is to explain to them that they will [need to save the]* experience for the swim meet, and not burn it off by increasing their non-swimming activity. This advice is good for all ages, of course. An emphasis on getting quality sleep and nutrition is certainly appropriate as well.

From the Technical Director of the ASCA

A “taper” presupposes there has been a program of strenuous overload of mature bodied individuals. In the case of age 12 and under age group swimmers a true taper is not productive because the day to day training of age groupers is rarely as intensive as with their senior counterparts. Total time in the water is generally only 50% or less of that of a senior swimmer who attends morning as well as evening workouts. The density of training (yards per hour) might only be 25% to 50% of senior training because of the greater emphasis on stroke work, drills, and fun time in an age group workout. Age group swimmers should maintain aerobic work until a day or two before a big meet and then reduce the amount of work by only 25% to 50%. For “A” level 9-10 year olds the typical level of aerobic work may be 2,000 to 3,000 per day (higher in some programs) and for “A” and “A+” 11-12’s typical aerobic yardage may be 3000 to 4,500 per day (higher in some programs.) Intense anaerobic swims of 50 yards and longer should not be increased in the immediate days before an important competition since it has the greatest potential for tiring young swimmers out. Instead, coaches often include a few “broken swims” of race distance and race pace more for the teaching of strategy and pace than for the physical training effect. A moderate amount of true alactic sprints of 25 yards and less with complete recovery times can be done at almost any time without effecting energy levels of young swimmers.

* Web master's edit

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May 2009

Swimming Is An Investment

Published by The American Club Swimming Association

With time at a premium in the two-career family, many parents are now asking "Is it the sacrifice and expense of joining an age group program worth it?" Here are some thoughts on why it is from Coach Cindy Anderson, head age group coach of the Reno Aquatic Club in Reno, Nevada.

"Age group swimming is much more than just swimming back and forth, day in and day out - the occasional swim meet and winning ribbon. Of course the swimmer gains from the physical activity of swimming, by becoming more fit...and there is involvement in an after-school activity at a time when working parents can't be with their kids. But age group swimming is an investment in the health, fitness, and overall growth and development of the youngster.

From the physical standpoint, swimming helps improve cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility, and neuromuscular coordination. In addition, swimming is a lifelong fitness activity that is relatively easy to pursue, low in injury risk, and helps reduce stress. It can be enjoyed recreationally long after it has ceased competitively.

Beyond the physical benefits, swimming in both practice and meets contributes greatly to the psychological and emotional development of the young athlete. As an activity, swimming requires the development of specific and complex motor patterns. Swimming well requires not only hard physical work, but also intelligent application of learned skills and the ability to THINK while performing. From concentration on performing stroke skills correctly to executing race strategies, the athlete learns early to concentrate and perform under pressure. In addition nutrition education is an ongoing and essential part of the athlete's overall development and success.

Age group swimming also requires consistent dedication, discipline and long-term commitment to goals, learning the habit of persistent application of lifestyle adaptations for goal achievement. Young swimmers also learn to accept success and failure with equal grace. In life as in swimming, one often fails several times on the way to a success, and it is an essential and difficult life-lesson to learn. The ups and downs of competition and training expose the young athlete to the realities of success and failure and force them to deal with the living experience.

Age group swimming, both directly and indirectly, teaches the athlete to develop: goal-setting strategies, time management skills, relaxation and imagery techniques, positive attitudes, and generally enhances the athletes overall self-image. Competitive swimming is both social and fun, and by virtue of the athletic nature of the activity, reinforces positive social values and beliefs. Athletes are taught to value their hard work in training and steer clear of drug and alcohol abuses.

To be an athlete is a very special and wonderful thing. To be a competitive swimmer is special, wonderful, and difficult; but the benefits of the persistent dedication and application of efforts, along with the benefits of facing and dealing with the emotional and psychological experiences associated with the demands of training and competing for success, are well worth whatever personal and/or financial investments are required.
Age group swimming is much more than it first appears.

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Swim Parents And Masters Swimming:
Interview with a Masters Swimmer and Swim Parent

Published by The American Club Swimming Association

Leslie Osborne is a 35-year old swimmer and mother of three age group swimmers. Leslie, a member of the Michigan Masters, shattered the 35-39 age group national record in the 100-yard breaststroke with a 1:07.58 (7 seconds faster than her best time as a teenager!) in only her second year of Master's swimming after an 18-year layoff. Leslie's three children Josh 11, Leslie 9, and Brian 6 have swum with the Michigan Stingrays for 2 1/2 years.

Q: Leslie, has your perspective on being a "swimming mother" changed as a result of competing yourself?

Leslie: I never considered myself to be a high pressure swim parent, but I find I'm more patient and relaxed about my kids' swimming now because I'm not living vicariously through them. I'm able to go after my own goals rather than pushing them to accomplish things because of some unfulfilled wish of my own.

I also have a renewed understanding of the difficulties and frustrations they experience. I see quite a few parents who expect their kids to drop time at every meet they enter, and Master's swimming teaches you that you can't always drop time, even if you'd like to.

Q: What advice would you like to share with other swim parents?

Leslie: I hate to see when parents act negatively with their kids after a race. Sometimes I see parents, who are so fat and out of shape they couldn't even swim a 25, scolding their kids about losing a race, and I want to ask them how they'd like to try it. It's hard for the average parent to relate to a swimming race experience without having gone through it themselves. They should realize all the feelings of anxiety and putting pressure on yourself that swimming races can impose. They should know it's not such a great feeling when things don't work out. I swam a 200 breaststroke in a local meet this year, where I lost my goggles on the start and everything went wrong. Here I was an adult and I could understand it was just one of those things. Putting a kid in the same situation and having someone yell at them after the race is the last thing they would need. You learn a lot from those experiences.

The other side, when things go well, is the great satisfaction that you have of knowing that you've done your best, that your work and conditioning have paid off, that your training was successful regardless of whether you win or lose.

Q: What do your kids think of having a swimming mom, who really swims?

Leslie: My kids are really proud of me and they think my swimming is great. They made posters and signs for me before I went to nationals. They also enjoy my swimming friends a lot. They're like adopted uncles and aunts and they make such good role models, I'm always happy to have them come over and be part of my kids' lives.

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Adjusting To Different Stroke Techniques

Published by The American Club Swimming Association

“My daughter’s Coach has been changing her strokes and now all of her times are slower. Does the coach know what he is talking about?”

Answered by: Mitch Ivy, a member of the 1984 Olympic Coaching Staff.

It is not unusual to experience slower swimming while adjusting to different stroke techniques. Often, times stroke techniques feel awkward and uncomfortable to the swimmer. It is important for the parents to encourage and support their young swimmer when he or she is going through this period.

Often times the swimmer will become frustrated with his slower times and he will become discouraged. The parents need to reinforce the benefits and the positive effects that the stroke changes will bring. Once he adapts to the changes, he will be much better off in the long run. The coach’s job is to make the transition as smooth as possible, “educating” the swim family along the way.

The importance of proper stroke technique cannot be stressed enough. Given two well-trained and physically comparable athletes, the race will ultimately be determined by technique and efficiency such as strokes, starts and turns. Fundamental stroke work should be the base for all 10 and under swimmers. We (concord Pleasant hill swim team) introduce training formats to swimmers 11 years and older and do not apply full double workouts and/or strength training until roughly high school age, although this is dependent upon individual maturity, physically and mentally.

Stroke work is not a seasonal or a special day even! Instead, it is an everyday part of our program. A stroke error left unattended will eventually prohibit proper racing form, and can even lead to injury. I consider each workout a “stroke workout” and constant care and attention are demanded from swimmer and coach alike.

You might not see results right away, but the coach is trying to lay the groundwork for your swimmer to reach his/her fullest future potential in our great sport.

Also, be aware that as the age grouper matures, his strokes will change. As the swimmer develops physically and mentally, he becomes technically more polished. Expect changes. It is very rare for a swimmer to go through age group swimming and senior swimming with the “best” stroke. Trust the coach. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the coach so that you may have better understanding of his teaching methods.

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Swim Meets: Basic Information for New Swim Parents

We participate in a variety of swim meets ranging from the most basic novice level dual meet to statewide and regional championship meets. Many meets are low key and designed to be learning experiences. Winning means improving start, stroke, turns, pace, and time. Racing, the ability to race, and the strategies in racing are a close second priority. Beating someone else is a bonus but not overly emphasized except for higher levels of competition. We try to attend invitational meets about every 4 to six weeks. We may hold novice level meets more frequently, sometimes weekly, at
our home pool.

Swim meets are preceded by a warm up period of 60 to ninety minutes. The coaches will tell parents what time swimmers are expected to be at the meet. Once at the meet, the coach will manage all the warm-up swimming, speak with swimmers before each swim, and review the swim with the swimmer immediately after. Parents should find a comfortable place to view the meet away from the immediate side of the pool. (Most of our swim parents sit together.) Parents are not to engage in coaching their children at the meets. However, parents are welcome to speak with coaches at appropriate times during the meet.

What a thrill to watch your child swim! We ask that you sit in the bleachers and stay clear of the sides of the pool. (Unless, you would like to be a timer - no experience required and the best seats in the house!) Your child will be under the care of the coaching staff during the whole time. All the swimmers will be in the same general area waiting for their next event. It is very important that children speak with their coach before their event and immediately afterwards in order to provide reminders and then to provide feedback. After children speak to the coach about their
event they may visit with their parents but will need to return to the team fairly shortly if they have another event to prepare for. When you visit with your children tell them how much you love them and how proud you are of them. Please refrain from providing critical comments on your child's performance as this is the role of the coaching staff.

What's going on?

Children should first find their coach who will conduct a warm-up prior to the start of the meet. The purpose of the warm-up is to loosed up muscles and tendons, get the capillaries opened up for improved blood flow, and to review skills. The amount of warm-up varies depending on training background. After warm-up the children will gather in an area with the
coaching staff. A good role for parents at this point is to be sure their children have a warm towel. The general order of events is younger swimmers first, and girls before boys. Age groups are 8 & under, 9-10, 11-12, and 13 and over. There may be several "heats" of one event. For example, there may be fifteen 9-10 girls so we would run several heats of 5 or 6 girls at a time. In each heat there may be swimmers much faster or much slower than your child.

It is natural for parents to want their child to win the heat. There are three things coaches look for and at this level winning the race is the LEAST important. The first thing we look at is technique -- starts, stroke, turns, pace, and finish. The second thing we look at is their time. Is it a best time? Finally we look at "racing." Racing means being competitive
WITH other swimmers. Perhaps the race is for 5th place or perhaps it is for 1st place. In any case we like the swimmers to have fun racing. Losing is not a big deal - effort is.

We hope you have a good meet experience along with your children. Please visit with the coach if you have any questions.

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April 2009

Stay with Developing Clubs

Concern: Our club is a young club, only three years old. My child, who is now 12, started with the program three years ago and is now one of the best swimmers on the team. (There are only a few older swimmers.) I think my child has out grown the team and we need to start looking for another club where my child will be challenged by better swimmers.

Response: Consider these questions:

1. Has your present club been making steady growth progress in the past and does it appear to be growing into the future?

2. Has the same coach been with the program for the past three years and has this coach continued his/her coaching education through American Swimming Coaches Membership, Clinics and the Certification program? Is the coach growing?

3. How did your child make such good progress to this point?

4. How does one balance the value of loyalty with the desire to move on?

Answers: If the coach and program are making good progress toward the future we believe you should stay with the club for three basic reasons:

First, a young team needs leadership beyond what the coach offers. As a parent you can provide important leadership to your Board of Directors and to other parents. Your swimmer represents the current peak of the program and is an important leader to all other younger swimmers. When leaders leave, the peak of the program is disrupted and the program loses direction.

Secondly, you child became a good swimmer with the present coach. There is every reason to believe that your child will continue to improve. Good coaches find ways to provide workout and competitive situations for their top swimmers so that they are continually challenged.

Consider this: many of America's top swimmers have come from programs where they are far and away the fastest person in the pool. Who do they compete with on a daily basis? They compete against the clock and they are motivated from within and by the coach. They are also motivated by their position of leadership to the rest of the team. The coach also arranges the best competitive situations in swim meets. There is always going to be a "best swimmer" in a workout -- let it be your child!

Third, in today's world, people are too quick to jump ship when things don't go perfectly. Loyalty and perseverance are important qualities to pass on to children. Be an exception. Stay with the club. Be a leader. Help it grow.

If the program and coach are not growing AND your child is not happy, then it is time to either effect changes in the program and/or coach, or look for another program. The important factor here is your child's happiness. Your child's swimming ambitions and needs may be very different than what you perceive them to be. Do not let your ego make a decision to switch clubs thus removing your child from friends, coach, and environment he is happy with.

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A Family That Plays Together

By Karen Coe, Sacramento Bee columnist

Parents should try not to push children too soon.

When the Garritsons show up at a cross country meet, they leave with most of the medals.

For the last several years, the Southern California family has dominated, and often swept, all the youth age group divisions at the National Cross Country Championships. With seven out of nine Garritson children competing, the first-place hardware is a heavy haul.

The Garritsons are a speedy lot. James, the oldest at 14, ran 32:59 for 10 kilometers at age 11. Carrie, 13, clocked a 2:49:18 at the Los Angeles Marathon two years ago. It was her debut marathon, and it qualified her for the Olympic Trials. Race organizers wouldn't let her compete in the trials marathon because of her age.

James and Carrie started running at ages 7 and 6 with their father, Mike. The others took their first fast steps with their dad at age 4. Jeremy, 3, runs 20 minutes three days a week. When Robert, 1, and the Garritson baby expected in a few weeks are ready for it, they'll run, too.

Although their running prowess has earned medals, national acclaim and even an interview on the Donohue show, some experts warn that the Garritsons have accomplished too much, too fast.

"We're against competition for kids," says Dr. Lyle Michaeli, director of the division of sports medicine at Children's Hospital in Boston. "The joints and growth plates (growth centers near the ends of bones) are susceptible to injury."

Besides the injuries related to overtraining, Michaeli also sees children who come to his clinic complaining of sleeplessness, lethargy and sometimes, depression.

"Some kids are actually stressed too much," Michaeli says. "It's a psychological stress. They can be depressed, overfatigued, show a change in the level of their schoolwork and get injured or sick."

Kids can run into performance anxiety in other sports besides running. And the angst young athletes feel when they put a personal performance on the line at a footrace is often benign compared to what children feel when they're part of a team that stresses winning instead of the joys of movement and learning new skills. Some coaches say children under 12 aren't psychologically ready to compete.

"Ask most coaches and the response you'll get is that the child should not get into competition before 11 or 12," says John Leonard, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association. "The problem isn't so much with the kids' adjustment, it's the parents' adjustment."

Leonard cites parents who hang around swim practices like groupies at a rock concert, timing laps and offering advice at every turn.

"There are over-involved parents in Little League, soccer, and hockey, too," says Leonard, who teaches people how to coach. "When you get adults involved, they say this is the start line and this the end. There is some standard to measure up to -- or not. Some parent might blow out of proportion that their 7 year old is blowing the other 7 year olds out of the water. Instead of learning better stroke technique, that kid relies on his superior strength. The problem comes in when he's 15 or 16 and all the kids have caught up to him in size and strength."

Dr. Gabe Mirkin, who in the late '60's, launched one of the first national age group running programs, coached his son, Jean, to 13 age group world records. At 11, Jean told his father that he'd never run another step. And Jean, 28, hasn't. Mirkin admits he pushed his son too hard. "In my opinion it's a mistake for kids to be highly competitive unless it's their own idea," says Mirkin, who writes a syndicated column on sports medicine and hosts a regular radio talk show on the subject. "It's too much, too soon. Kids want to be kids."

But Mirkin sees nothing wrong with hard workouts.

"I don't agree with Michaeli that you can injure bone plates," he says. "It's the competition I disagree with. I pushed Jean hard. He had tremendous success and acclaim. When father is the coach, it's a dangerous situation. Parents should be supportive and encourage the kids, take them to practice, but should stay in the stands until the kid is done working out. The kids need to be motivated from within, not by their parents."

Mike Garritson isn't one to sit in the stands at workouts. He coaches his children and often runs workouts with them. And he has taken a lot of flak for that hands-on approach to his children's training.

"I think he's an extremist," says Dr. Ron Axtell, a general practitioner and chairman of the Southern California Association of Youth Athletics for The Athletics Congress. "I don't know whether he wants his kids to succeed for themselves or whether he wants them to succeed for him."

In defense, Garritson cites his kids' healthy appetite for competition, their undeniable success in running and their scholastic accomplishments.

"Their grades all went up when they started running," he says. "We do our workouts on trails and the kids love that and the wildlife they see. They like going to meets. It was Carrie's idea to run the L.A. Marathon. I didn't want her to. I wanted her to stop after 10K, but she kept going."

Here are some tips from national experts on the subject of children and competition:

Dr. Lyle Michaeli: "Organized sports is probably going to be the only way kids get exercise in the future," he says. "So, I'm all for that. I'd advise keeping the competition out of it until they're 14 or so."

James Ross, vice president of Macro Systems in Silver Springs, Md., and director of child and adolescent health programs: "There's no indication that participation in high school or college sports carries over into adulthood," he says. "We should be teaching kids skills and introducing them to activities they'll do all their lives."

John Leonard, executive director of the American Swimming Coaches Association: "For kids, I recommend lots of activities, not just swimming," He says. "Help them get a sense of physicality through sports like soccer, baseball, or basketball."

Dr. Gabe Mirkin: "Let them be kids," he says. "They can work out three days a week, but let them play and be kids the other four days."

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Supporting Your Children in Swimming

Published by The American Club Swimming Association

Parents can help their kids feel that they can reach goals they've set for themselves with effort, perseverance, and just a little patience. From PARENTS magazine, here are 7 ways to help your youngster do their best.

1. Support their efforts. Listen to your child's dreams, goals, and ideas and help him to work out the steps of those that seem attainable by organizing them into do-able parts.

2. Encourage follow-through. Praise task completion and encourage them to carry on when the initial excitement fades. Relate your struggles to complete tasks and your satisfaction at having achieved a goal.

3. Offer reinforcement or reward. Give incentive for better efforts, not just accomplishments. Keep a chart with stars tracking progress and reward the task's completion, not its grade. Younger children need quicker rewards and briefer tasks.

4. Recognize his success level. When a child reaches a point of frustration, learning specialists advocate you help him return to a level where he feels successful. Then his enthusiasm will return.

5. Involve others. Tell teachers and coaches that it's more important to you that your child feel successful than to come out on top. Making your values clear to them can make them more effective in helping your child.

6. Point out effort in others. Make your child aware of how others work hard at their daily activities, so they know they're not alone in trying, overcoming discouragement, meeting challenges, and succeeding.

7. Praise him for trying. Point out how much you appreciate your child's doing something that may be difficult for him.

Applied to schoolwork, swimming, or other pursuits, these devices can help kids develop a "can-do" attitude.

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What’s Up with the Suits?

Posted: March 4, 2009, by John Leonard

OK, here we go. There is good news, OK news, some bad news as well.

First, I was privileged to be part of the FINA Swimsuit manufacturers meeting and a FINA organizational meeting that preceeded it, near the end of February in Lausanne. I was one of three coaching representative, along with Alan Thompson, National Team Director for Australia and FINA Coaches Commission Secretary, and Osvaldo Arsenio of Argentina, Coaches Commission Chair. The athletes were represented by Janet Evans, Athletes Commission Chair, and Alex Popov, who used to swim some sprint freestyle before the new suits came along.

I can report to you with absolute certainty that the coaches and athletes were on the exact same page with regard to all issues relating to the suits, at that meeting and since. It is fair to characterize that the athletes and coaches have the most conservative position in the room with regard to the suits. Good news, that FINA invited us to be in the room, good news that they listen to coaches and athletes very carefully, good news that they adopt many of the things that coaches and athletes recommend, bad news that “you don’t always get EVERYTHING you want” (with apologies to Mr. Jagger.)

Here is the scenario as it exists today:

1. FINA wants to moderate the rules as they exist, in regard to the suits.

2. FINA will moderate the rules in multiple phases.

1. First phase will begin immediately post March and continue through the World Championships, until end of December 08.
2. Second phase will be KNOWN from late summer or earlier, and will begin implementation on Jan. 1, 2010.
3. Third phase will be post Jan. 1, 2010 with an evaluation period of the effect of rule changes to date and contemplation of what other changes would be good to make.

3. The Major Traditional Swimsuit partners of the world of swimming are happy to adjust their manufacturing to meet the FINA requirements with the caveat that an 18-24 month development cycle for new products will be heavily stressed with our initial phases. This is a hardship for them, financially and operationally. Also no doubt, some newer players in the market that I categorize as “in it for the fast buck”, will be done in by the new rules and will not be happy. And because they are in it for the quick buck and not for development of the sport longterm, they may well take their unhappiness to a court of law to try to find their “quick buck”. Shame on them if they do.

4. FINA has watched this intrusion of technology into the sport over a period of eight years. FINA recognizes it will not be able to be fixed in a matter of one or even two will take a bit of adjustment and time to “get it right”.

5. By get it right, FINA does not mean a technology free sport....FINA wants to allow manufacturers “some latitude” to create differentiated products to sell themselves to the marketplace. At the same time, FINA recognizes that using the body of the athletes for technological advance, in effect “enhancing” the athlete is undersirable for most, as opposed to the Pre-2000 concept of the swimsuit “maximizing” the ability of the athlete.

6. FINA “gets it”. But “getting it” and doing things that are legally defensible in court, are not always the same thing. Many of us “know things” that the suits are doing to enhance the athlete’s performance. But there is a far cry from what we know to what we can PROVE scientifically.

And if you’re going to court, you’d better be able to PROVE your points, with scientific measurement.

So here is where the “purists” will be unhappy. We cannot fix all that we “know” that the suits do to enhance the performance, because scientific tests do not exist to measure all that we know. (I’ll return to that later.)

By the way, I consider myself, at heart, a “purist” and proud to be so. But I am an utter pragmatist when it comes to courts, and lawsuits. Its not enough to “know”, we have to be in a position to “prove”.

So, with those preliminaries out of the way, what’s going to happen?

PHASE ONE – The BEST news...FINA has employed one of the great laboratories in the world to do independent testing on all swimsuits. Each suit to be approved by FINA will now be tested by this lab prior to the use of the suit in a competitive period. All suits will be tagged with either a “chip” or a barcode, so we know in fact that each used in competition is an approved suit. (FINA will establish a second level of “Ready Room” to do this.

We will have real testing against set standards by an independent tester. Hoorah!

Almost as good. FINA has banned all wearing of more than one suit. Hoorah!

In Phase One – suits will be a maximum of 1 MM thick. This will eliminate a few of the existing suits.
In Phase One – suits will produce 1 newton (100 grams) of flotation force, or less. This will raise the typical 180 pound swimmer less than 1MM in the water. (materials, amount of suit, etc. become irrelevant...the measurement is on flotation...)
In Phase One – any design features that trap air will be illegal.
In Phase One – any design feature that provides Bio-feedback or any related impact on the body is deemed illegal.
In Phase one – suits will be designed from shoulders to ankles, no arms.

Phase one will affect the Rome World Championships this summer.

All suits (previously approved or not) must be re-submitted for testing according to these standards. A few versions of a few suits will immediately disappear.

The situation will be “a bit better”.

PHASE TWO – will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. Both Coaches and Athletes Commission sent near identical requests to the FINA Executive for even stronger regulation than was adopted here. We didn’t get all we wanted. But we got some. Big Thanks to Janet Evans for her passion and voice on this. After conversations with Cornel Marculescu today, it appears that in addition to the above from Phase one, the phase two restrictions will include:

1. A reduction in thickness to .8 from 1.0 MM.

2. Limits on “non-permeable materials” used in the suit...probably to no more than 50% of the suit. And only limited amounts can be “continuous”...which means that permeable materials must exist right next to non-permeable materials to remove the air trapping capability of rubbers and plastics.

3. A possible reduction in the newton floatation forces. (still being studied).

4. A possible ban on zippers as a fastening system. (still being studied).

PHASE THREE – No date has been set yet for a third evaluation of the changes made by Phase One and Phase Two, but Cornel assures that the intent is to give it a little time to fairly evaluate what we have achieved with rule changes in Phases one and two, and then, with a nod to the manufacturing cycle, decide if and what changes should be made in Phase three rules. (projecting, it is likely this evaluation will take place post world championships in 2010)

What has NOT been addressed so far?

1. The most critical is the issue of “compression”.

While it is unclear what role if any, compression has on physiological effectiveness of muscle cells, what is completely clear to any athlete and most coaches, is that compression is very effective in limiting and reducing the amount of “body fatigue and body line failure” in the last ¼ of races. A simple study of the 110 world record splits in 2008, shows over 70% with dramatic improvements in the 4th quarter of the race in contrast with previous (non-tech suits) world records. Simply put, the suits are holding the body line together and reducing resistance when the normal body fatigues, “sags” and loses its ability to hold the correct low resistance position in the latter stages of the race.

Now here, we have the classic example. We know this is true, but we cannot prove it in any way that is going to stand up in court. My personal quest for 2009 and 2010 will be to find a scientist with a reliable test for how to measure compression values in a swimsuit, so we can take it to the independent lab for analysis and a new rule to be introduced in Phase three. But for the time being, it is a bit of “enhancement” that we cannot prove well enough to take to court when FINA is sued. So we do not create a rule that we cannot enforce.

Botttom Line
Let me be clear about this. I am a purist in the most absolute sense. I want to see us swim in jammers for men and hip to shoulder suits for women, with no compression to speak of in either.

In phase one, we won’t get there.
In phase two, we won’t get there.

In both phases, we will see dramatically improved conditions for “purist” competition, where the enhancements of the suits count for less and less and the athleticism, training and learning of the athlete counts for more and more.

FINA is moving in the correct direction, and in the correct way. It is a pointless and indefensible position to set in place dramatic rules rolling the sport back to 1999 when it would alienate all the traditional partners who contribute over $100 Million a year to coaches, athletes, federations and FINA and support our sport, AND wind up resulting in lawsuits from manufacturers whom we have mis-treated by pulling the rug out from under their products so quickly as to leave them insolvent.

A staged, systematic roll-back to the level we decide is correct is the proper way to treat people, treat companies and treat each other. And that is exactly what FINA has put in place.

I will continue to put forth ideas that will be able to be scientifically tested by the independent lab as a way to combat “enhancement” properties of swimsuits. I am certain that the lab and FINA will give each proposal due and proper consideration.

It is critical that athletes as well as coaches work collaboratively with FINA to give their ideas...but also to keep in mind that it is not what you “know”, its what you scientifically measure, that will keep you out of trouble in a court of law. FINA has done a fine job of walking that line.

My personal thanks to FINA volunteer leadership and the professional leadership of Cornel Marculescu, for moving forward on this issue within the first 12 month period when this issue came to the fore.

That willingness to quickly address the issue and consult strongly with its partners, the coaches and the athletes, and implement a solution, speaks very well of the FINA organization.

The blame for eight years of heading in the wrong direction can be placed by those who enjoy the blame game. When the ultimate overflow of bad reviews came about in 2008, FINA jumped to solve the problem.

That’s real progress. If you are old enough to remember other era’s and other problems, this is a great leap forward. At least one of my very good friends will label me a “FINA Apologist” for these comments. I reject that idea. No one in the world has been more critical of FINA at various times in the last two decades than myself. But when an organization does its best to move in the right direction and solve real problems, they have earned support, not censure. Its important to say “thank you” when some body with which you sometimes disagree, listens, learns and changes. That’s where I am with the suit issue. Thank you FINA. Thank you Cornel. Nicely done.

Your comments are welcome at

All the Best, John Leonard

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January 2009

Letter from an Umpire

By Donald Jenson (from USA Swimming's Parents section)

Donald Jenson was struck in the head by a thrown bat while umpiring a Little League game in Terre Haute, Indiana. He continued to work the game, but later that evening was placed in a hospital for observation by a doctor. While there, Jenson wrote the following letter.

Dear Little League Parent:
I am an umpire. I don't do it for a living, but on Saturdays and Sundays for fun. I played the game, coached it and watched it. But somehow, nothing takes the place of umpiring. Maybe it's because I feel that deep down, I'm providing a fair chance for all the kids to play the game without disagreements and arguments.

With all the fun I've had, there is still something that bothers me about my job ... Some of you folks don't understand why I'm there. Some of you think I'm there to exert authority over your son or daughter. For that reason, you often yell at me when I make a mistake, or encourage your son or daughter to say things that hurt my feelings. How many of you really understand that I try to be perfect? I try not to make a mistake. I don't want your child to feel that he got a bad deal from an umpire.

Yet no matter how hard I try, I can't be perfect. I counted the number of calls I made in a six inning game today. The total number of decisions, whether on balls or strikes or safes or outs was 146. I tried my best to get them all right, but I'm sure I missed some. When I figured out my percentage on paper, I could have missed eight calls today and still got about 95 percent of the calls right! In most occupations that percentage would be considered excellent. In school that grade would receive an "A" for sure.

But your demands are higher than that. Let me tell you more about my game today. There was one real close call that ended the game. A runner for the home team was trying to steal home on a passed ball. The catcher chased the ball down and threw it to the pitcher covering the plate. The pitcher made the tag and I called the runner out. As I was getting my equipment to leave, I overheard one of the parents comments: "It's too bad the kids have to lose because of rotten umpires. That was one of the lousiest calls I've ever seen." Later at the concession stand a couple of kids were telling their friends, " Boy, the umpires were lousy today; they lost the game for us."

The purpose of Little League is to teach baseball skills to young people. Obviously, a team that does not play well in a given game, yet is given the opportunity to blame that lose on an umpire for one call or two, is being given the chance to take all responsibility for the loss from its shoulders.

A parent or Adult leader who permits the young player to blame his or her failures on an umpire, regardless of the quality of that umpire, is doing the worst kind of injustice to that youngster. Rather than learning responsibility, such an attitude fosters an improper outlook towards the ideals of the game itself. The irresponsibility is bound to carry over to future years.

As I sit her writing this letter, I am no longer as upset as I was this afternoon. I wanted to quit umpiring. but fortunately, my wife reminded me of another situation that occurred last week. I was behind the plate umpiring for a pitcher who pantomimed his displeasure at any call or borderline pitch that wasn' t in his team's favor. One could sense that he wanted the crowd to realize that he was a fine, talented player who was doing his best to get along and that I was the villain working against him.

The kid proceeded in this vein for two innings, while at the same time also yelling at his own players who dared to make a mistake. For two innings the Manager watched this and when the boy returned to the dugout to bat in the top of the third, the manager called him aside.

In a loud enough voice that I was able to overhear, the lecture went like this, "Listen, son, it's time you made a decision. You can be an umpire, or an actor, or a pitcher. But you can be only one at a time when you are playing for me. Right now it's your job to pitch and you are basically doing a lousy job. Leave the acting to the actors and the umpiring to the umpires. Now what's it going to be?"

The kid chose the pitching route and went on to win the game. When the game was over, the kid followed me to my car. Fighting his hardest to keep back the tears, he apologized for his actions and thanked me for umpiring his game. He said he had learned a lesson that he would never forget.

I cannot help but wonder; how many fine young men are missing their chance to develop into outstanding ballplayers because their parents encourage them to spend time umpiring, rather than working harder to play the game as it should be played.

The following morning, Donald Jenson died of a brain concussion ....

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How Big Will You Dare to Be?

By Carol Ross (see for more information). (from USA Swimming's Parents section)

Most people are bigger than they know. Our society celebrates superstars and searches for the next American Idol. Yet in our everyday lives, the ones that involve going to the grocery store on a Wednesday night after work, lest there be a mutiny at home at the dinner table, there is little of that “bigness business.” Others know when “your stuff”, the stuff that only you can do or make or be, is good, really good. But tooting your own horn, saying how good or big you can be and stepping into it is not dinner table conversation.

There is a voice in my mind that screams out firmly, “Don’t be arrogant! Don’t get too big for your britches!” It is the voice of my family of origin, my immigrant parents, Asian through and through, wanting to fit into a white society. My father died when I was 13 years old. Many years later, when I was in my thirties, I was cleaning out a desk at my family’s home. There, I found a stack of letters that my older sister had received from my father, after she had gotten married and moved away. He wrote, “Carol is sticking out like a sore thumb. She got the highest grade point average in her 8th grade class.” It was the first time I had ever heard that my father was proud of me. I could see that he was uncomfortable with me not “fitting in”, yet he also wanted to tell someone how proud he was of me. He chose to tell my sister and not me. I suspect that he also had a Gremlin about recognizing his children’s achievements in front of them, that that would only lead to “big heads” and arrogance.

The irony is that recognizing one’s achievements, one’s greatness in whatever one’s area of excellence, doesn’t lead to
arrogance. It leads to more greatness and more gratitude. Arrogance doesn’t come from thinking of yourself as Big. It comes from thinking of others as Small. Once you get over that, there’s plenty of room for everyone to be Big.

Humility means a lot to me. So how can you be Big and humble at the same time? When I’m being Big, it’s not actually
about me. It’s about using my gifts in service to others. It’s about being “in the flow,” where everything is effortless. Somewhere in me, there is something pushing me forward to share more of myself with the world. This is Bigness at its best. I know what needs to be shared. Not my list of errands or gripes about medical insurance. What needs to be shared is what only I am uniquely wired to give. A friend told me that I have the rare combination of being brazen and compassionate at the same time. I am analytical and intuitive in the same breath. I bridge the male and female worlds with my engineering mind and my eyes that see what people yearn for.

I realize that when I let myself be Big, I let my clients be Big as well. When I keep myself Small, others are held back as
well. This is leadership by example.

A friend warned me that when I move into the land of Bigness, I must be willing to stand alone at times. Bigness doesnot mean that everyone will like you. Bigness means that you like yourself. Fully. By the same token, Bigness draws people to you that are collaborators, creators in a like-minded way, and supporters. You become surrounded by people who love you, even as those who don’t care for your message fall away. When I stepped into a more truthful and vulnerable place in my monthly newsletter, I got the highest number of “unsubscribe” messages ever. And I received countless messages from supporters, loving what I had to say and the way I said it.

Someone asked me what happened in the journey from being out of alignment in my values with the company that
I worked for two years ago to having my own company today. I grinned and said, “I’m much Bigger now than I ever thought I could be.” He was puzzled by my words. So I stood up and spread my arms wide and shouted, “I get to be THIS BIG.” I then went on to talk about how a company’s expectations of me, unspoken or written down in a policy manual of what was appropriate and not appropriate, no longer applied. I’m not linked to anyone else’s performance review of me. What matters is my own conscience and the results that I produce for my clients. I create what I want in the world, with who I want.

Holy cow. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone realized they could be Bigger, if they realized that
doing more of what they do best would be a gift not only to themselves but to everyone else around them? Some people
might have visions of egos run amuck. In reality, it would be greatness shining brightly, showing the way for even more
people to take a step into the unknown space of who they really are.

How big will you dare to be?

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December 2008

Good Coaching Case Study: The Specialist -- June 2008

(from the Postive Coach Alliance and Michigan State University's Institute for the Study of Youth Sports collaboration on the Good Coaching Case Studies National Conversation)

As practice is winding down, Coach Hastings motions you over for a private conversation about your child, who shows enough raw athletic ability to excel. Coach tells you your child has great potential but should specialize as soon as possible, eschewing other sports and training year-round, especially if you hope for a college scholarship for your child. Coach Hastings is a technically skilled coach who has had a number of athletes earn college scholarships.

  • How do you respond?
  • What considerations inform your decision?
  • How, if at all, do you discuss this with your child?
  • Would your response vary depending on the age of your child?
  • Is there a certain age at which specialization makes the most sense?

Response by PCA Founder Jim Thompson

The comments on the PCA website about The Specialist are filled with insights, many based on personal experience with specialization. I encourage everyone reading this to check them out because they are well worth it. Thank you to all who took the time to share your thoughts with us all.

As I speak to groups of parents around the U.S., I am more often asked about the pressure they feel to encourage their child to specialize in one sport than any other issue. Often the question is asked in a way that suggests that the parents feel they have no choice but to acquiesce to the pressure, or their child will fall behind.

Here are some thoughts about dealing with the decision to specialize (or not):

1) It’s up to you. There is no one else who can advocate as well as you for what’s best for the child. It is up to parents to resist the pressure to specialize and step up to the responsibility of doing the right thing for their child. If we can’t resist pressure on behalf of our kids, when can we?

2) And your child. Depending on the age of your child, you will want to involve him in this decision. As writers below have noted, a young child may not be in a position to decide this, but even for a younger child, involving her in the discussion has to be a learning experience for her. She can see how you evaluate and discuss the coach’s statement and learn from you a little bit more about how to make good decisions. If the child is older, you absolutely will want to bring him into the conversation, even to the point of allowing him to make the decision after considering all the different aspects, pluses and minuses, etc.

3) Coach Conflict of Interest. Relying on the advice of a coach, no matter how successful or skilled he or she may be is inadequate. Coaches may have a conflict of interest that can skew their perceptions. A coach may want your child to specialize in his/her sport so much that it affects his/her judgment about what’s best for your child.

4) Multiple sports help. If your only goal is to shape your child into a great athlete (which is not a good idea!), you would have your child experience multiple sports. There are many examples of professional athletes who say their success in their ultimately-chosen sport was enhanced by their playing other sports until a pretty advanced age. General sports skills such as balance and game sense can be enhanced for an athlete’s ultimate sport by experience with other sports.

Another reason for exposing your child to multiple sports is because you don’t know which sport will catch his fancy to the point where he wants to stay with it for a lifetime.

5) The age of 12. Dan Gould of Michigan State’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports says the problem isn’t specialization, but PREMATURE specialization. Most athletes who attain an elite level specialize at some point, but it is much later than many coaches and parents believe. The research indicates that for most sports, specialization before the age of 12 is not a good idea.

6) Dangers of specialization. While year-round focus on a single sport may speed up the acquisition of skills, there are dangers that can outweigh that advantage. Chief among these are burnout and repetitive stress injuries. Enjoyment makes it more likely that an athlete will be able to maintain the long-term commitment to a sport (something that is harder than it may seem) that is needed to reach elite status. And there are few activities that don’t get old when you do them all the time. Year-round specialization makes burnout more likely.

Repetitive stress injuries also increase with specialization, which then can undercut motivation. It’s hard to be as excited about a sport when it hurts to play the sport.

7) Child-Driven v. Adult-Driven. I would be much more open to specialization if the child is the one driving the decision. If a child says she wants to focus on a single sport year round, she is less likely to burn out, for example, than if she feels she has to do it to ensure a place on a team. Commitments freely entered into are more likely to be enjoyed than commitments one feels forced into making.

8) Your child’s chances. Tom Farrey in his new book Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children cites the “jockocracy” of professional sports. So many professional athletes are the offspring of former professional athletes. The chances of your child becoming a professional athlete in the absence of physical gifts are not good. Recognize this and don’t put so many eggs in the pro career or college scholarship basket.

9) The good news. Helping your child have fun and learn life lessons from her sports experience is a good strategy whether she makes the pros or not. If an athlete loves playing his sport and has the talent to be a professional athlete, he will find his love of the sport a big asset. If your child doesn’t ultimately have the ability to go pro, at least she will not be deprived of the chance for a lifelong love of sports and physical activity. Focusing your emphasis on your child having a good time with sports and taking away life lessons will benefit him in any event.

-- Jim Thompson, PCA Founder

You can find more more info on this and other interesting subjects with USA Swimming's Successful Sport Parenting CD, an interactive CD with unique sections for parents, coaches and club administrators. The CD is aimed at enhancing the parent-coach-club triangle of support. Watch interviews with coaches, parents and athletes, learn from presentations and download documents on every topic involved in sport parenting. Parents: learn the “dos and don’ts” of sport parenting as well as how to support your athlete through all stages of athlete development and how to communicate with your child’s coach./p>

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November 2008

Parenting My Champion: Developing Talent

(from the USTA's Parenting My Champion: Developing Talent)

The US Tennis Association has developed a chart of guidelines for parents entitled "Parenting My Champion: Developing Talent." The chart shows three stages of development: Introduction/Foundation (ages 5-10), Refinement/Transitional (ages 10-14), and Elite Performance (15 and over). At each stage the USTA gives recommendations for things parents can do to encourage the child, keep things in perspective AND foster long term development and success.

“Parenting My Champion: Developing Talent”
Recommended Guidelines for Successful Sport Parenting

Phase One
Age of Athlete: 4.5-9.6
Years in Phase: 5.1

Phase Two
Age of Athlete: 10.6-14.6
Years in Phase: 4.0
Phase Three
Age of Athlete: 15.4+
Years in Phase: NA

• Allow your child to dream big
• Ensure lessons focus on fun and fundamentals
• Recognize child’s interest and provide the opportunities and support to help him/her be successful
• Help make the youth sport experience fun
• Focus little attention on winning/rankings
• Expose and encourage participation in multiple sports and activities
• Focus on the positive (cheer for your child)
• Focus on ways to develop a good person (emphasize positive attitude and life skills)
• Stay calm during competitions—try not to show nervousness or negative emotions (remember this is just a sport)
• Let the coach do his or her job
• Emphasize good behavior and sportsmanship
• Don’t constantly talk about the sport at home
• Emphasize activities outside of the sport
• Put limits on amounts of practice and play (avoid burning out child)
• Stand by your child, provide unconditional love and support
• Believe in your child
• Provide transportation
• Provide the opportunity to play participate
• Avoid pressuring your child
• Provide basic instruction (if you have the ability to do so)

• Provide transportation, logistical & financial support
• Do things to ensure the sport remains fun as pressure to perform increases
• Focus on ways to develop a good person (emphasize positive attitude and life skills)
• Stay calm during competitions: try not to show nervousness or negative emotions (develop your coping skills – as a parent take a “cleansing” deep breath when emotions are high)
• Identify a knowledgeable coach who understands what it takes to develop an elite player while working with a teen
• Let the coach do his or her job
• Emphasize good behavior and sportsmanship
• Encourage your child to win, but more importantly encourage him or her to give it his/her best effort
• Infrequently talk about the sport at home
• Do not try to coach—simply provide general encouragement
• Ensure the coach is doing a good job of coaching your child & assist in his/her development
• As your child experiences more success keep success in perspective by emphasizing normal childhood chores and
• Do non-sport family activities (especially at travel competitions)
• Involve child in decision making
• Believe in your child while having appropriate sport expectations
• Stress basic values: work hard, if do it, do it well, take responsibility for self and actions, need to make sacrifices if want to be good
• Give your child time to recover after a competition before talking to him/her about it
• Avoid extensive post competition critiques
• Try to have non-emotional reactions to mistakes/losses
• As your child becomes more successful and gains notoriety be careful not to begin to judge your ability as a parent by your child’s success
• Discipline child for poor sportsmanship or disrespectful actions
• Discuss serious issues with coach in private—not in front of child
• Admit mistakes if you are wrong
• Never interrupt lessons or practice
• If you are a parent-coach, be careful not to confuse the dual roles (when you’re away from practice or competition you are no longer providing instruction or critiquing your child)
• Provide optimal push: make sure your child really wants to play the sport and, if so then hold him or her accountable to living up to practice and training commitments
• Focus on long-term development not winning
• Don’t pressure your child to win
• Don’t tie your approval as a parent to your child’s play
• Make your child more responsible for his/her sport preparation (i.e., equipment, completion of other obligations such as homework)

• Be careful to care about your child as a person and not just as an athlete
• Lessen optimal parent push as the athlete learns to push self
• Be ready to lessen your involvement as your child becomes more independent (travel without you more often, defer to the coach for sport decisions)
• Provide emotional support and encouragement
• Facilitate independence in your child by making him or her more responsible for equipment, commitments and scheduling.
• Believe in child and his or her ability
• Stay out of coaching/technical analysis
• Stay calm during competition—try not to show nervousness or negative emotions (continue to develop coping skills)
• Let the coach do his or her job
• Emphasize good behavior and sportsmanship
• Encourage your child to win, but don’t push him/her to win
• Help athlete recognize sport as a game of highs and lows—work to stay emotionally even
• Reassure/relax your child
• Provide honest feedback to your child
• Don’t pressure athlete to win/be careful not to become too outcome-focused
• Help child do some other non-sport activities to maintain normalcy
• Provide unconditional love and support
• Do non-sport family activities
• Serve as resource in decision process/voice opinions but let your child make the final decision (i.e.,
college, goals)
• Do not constantly talk about the sport at home
• Stress basic values: work hard, if do it do it well, take responsibility for self and actions, need to make sacrifices if want to be good
• Don’t provide extensive post competition critiques
• Try to have non-emotional reactions to mistakes/losses
• Remind athlete that while stakes are high, it is still important to have fun
• Identify a knowledgeable coach who understands what it takes to develop an elite athlete
• Do not change when the stakes become higher
• Provide support such as dealing with finances

Click here for a PDF file of this chart. Many more documents for parents can be found in the Successful Sport Parenting CD.

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October 2008

Improvement's Torturous Path

by Tom Slear, special Splash correspondent, Splash Magazine:May-June 2005 (from USA Swiming parents' section)

The unpredictable pattern of improvement among competitive swimmers is one of the sport’s most mystifying problems. The questions are many and the answers are few.

The feeling among coaches is nearly universal. It’s an odd mix consisting of equal amounts hope and caution. They don’t know quite what to make of their prodigies, the 9-, 10-, or 11-year-olds who seem to have it all – feel for the water, competitive drive, and the talent to adapt and improve technique.

They are almost too good to be true. Therein lies the hope. And very often, they are. That’s where the caution comes in.

“You wonder how much longer they will be around,” says John Collins, head coach of Badger Swim Club in Larchmont, N.Y. “If they are, will they be going anywhere nearly as fast (when compared to their peers)?”

It’s arguably the single most mystifying problem related to the development of swimmers. Why do some improve steadily and others plateau? Why isn’t the slope of an improvement curve predictable? Basic logic dictates that as swimmers get older, they should be bigger, stronger, better trained and therefore, faster. Improvement might not have a constant, positive slope – nothing in sport is that assured – but it should be steady over the long-term, with peaks of larger magnitudes than valleys.

However, those familiar with swimming know this is simply not the case. Improvement’s path contains detours and even U-turns. Many brilliant young swimmers plateau, and then, says Collins, who has coached three swimmers from age groupers to Olympians, the “window of opportunity closes. They are sure bets for the next year and the next year never comes. Kids expect to improve every year, and in many cases, that simply doesn’t happen.”

This unpredictability baffles coaches, infuriates parents and exasperates swimmers. It’s not a situation unique to swimming. All sports are littered with stories of hot shots whose competitive careers turn cold. Damon Bailey was labeled a can’t-miss basketball prospect as an eight grader by no less of a luminary than Bobby Knight, who was then the head coach at Indiana University.

Bailey went on to lead his high school to the Indiana state championship before a frenzied crowd of 41,000. He was the state’s Mr. Basketball and a consensus All-American. Then his stature began to slip. The best he did in college was make first team All-Big 10. He was picked 44th in the 1994 NBA draft and lasted only a year in the league. Even Bailey has admitted that his most enjoyable times as a basketball player were in high school.

“You will find that across sports, there is not much correlation between those who have success when they are 10 and 11 with those having success when they are 19 and 20,” says Dr. Thomas Raedeke of the Department of Exercise and Sport Science at East Carolina University. “It could be for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that when success comes early on and you are improving by leaps and bounds, you come to expect that. When it stops, and you are improving only fractionally, that can be very frustrating, especially when others you used to beat are improving more. It may cause you to question your commitment to the sport, which affects how hard you work and whether you continue to improve.”

Swimming has the added dimension of simplicity. The sport’s only element is speed, which can be measured objectively. Unlike team sports, where individual improvement is calculated by an equation of multiple variables, any one of which is as subjective as the meaning of justice, a swimmer’s progression can be evaluated to the hundredth of a second. It is the sport’s major plus and its most glaring minus. A tight end in football can unfailingly cobble together a logical path to improvement. If he begins to show a tendency toward dropping passes, then he can point to his more developed blocking. If his blocking shows signs of regressing, he can claim that the opposition is stronger.

The stopwatch prohibits swimmers from any such forgiving outtakes. You either did better or you didn’t. You’re either stepping forward or you aren’t. Childhood stars have the added burden of staying up with their peers. As one coach recalls hearing from a 14-year-old, “The people watching are laughing at me because I can’t even beat the records I set when I was 12.”


Like Collins, Dr. Genadijus Sokolovas, USA Swimming’s director of physiology, talks of missed windows of opportunity. He sees peak performances as a 10- to 12-year-old as a work in progress, beginning with preliminary preparation for those under the age of 10 and advancing through basic training (10-12), specialization (13-18, depending on gender and event), and peak performance somewhere around ages 18 to 20 (later for sprinters).

Patience is the key, according to Sokolovas. Rushing through any one of the stages – or skipping one altogether – might push swimmers ahead of their peers for a time, but it won’t lead to the ultimate goal of peak performances at full physical maturation.

The stages Sokolovas speaks of begin with the development of fundamental skills, flexibility and general endurance, and progress gradually to higher volumes of training with increased intensity. The concept is for swimmers to hold off on the tougher workouts until they are best equipped to handle them, thereby inducing the highest training value and the most overall improvement.

Very often, Sokolovas says, young swimmers who are ahead of their peer groups are pushed forward in the developmental cycle, with intensive, high-yardage training introduced too early. By the time they are most able physically to handle to the higher levels of training stress, they are on the downside of their adaptation cycle.

“If they are fast when they are young with a minimum of workload, that’s one thing,” says Sokolovas, “but if it’s because they are 10 and doing 7,000 yards a day, that’s something else. In that case, it’s not good to be too fast too young.”

In a study he authored, Sokolovas compared the swimmers in the best all-time, top-100 times for age groups from 10-and-under through 17-18. Among the 17- and 18-year olds, only 10.3 percent of the girls and 13.2 percent of the boys were listed in any event as 10-and-unders. When compared to the lists of 11- and 12-year-olds, the percentages were 20.3 for the girls and 12.6 for the boys. Not until the 15/16 age group did the percentages become significant – 49.7 for the girls and 53.5 for the boys. As Sokolovas concluded, “Most of the future elite swimmers swim slower than age-group champions, especially at ages until 15-16 years.”

“So many want to be successful right now,” Sokolovas says. “They don’t want to wait. They don’t understand that if their bodies have already adapted at age 12 to a high volume of training and intensity, there is little room for them to go. How can they improve?”

The outlook for young speedsters is not quite as bleak as Sokolovas’ study might indicate. His baseline of all-time top-100 times came from the national compilation done every year of the top-16 times from each of the age groups. In essence, Sokolovas looked at the all-stars of all-stars.

The top-16 rankings portray a significantly different picture. Of the 43 men and women on America’s 2004 Olympic team, 18 (42 percent) had a top-16 national ranking in either short-course yards or long-course meters as a 10-and-under. Among those were Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol, who set world records in Athens, and Jenny Thompson, who, at 31, competed in her fourth Olympic Games. Twenty-five of the 2004 Olympians – 58 percent – had a top-16 ranking as 11- and 12-year-olds.

Still, few within the swimming community question Sokolovas’ contention that too much too early can lead to too little later on. Susan (O’Brien) Williams swam at the 1980 Olympic Trials as a 14-year-old and did a 1:05 in the 100-meter backstroke. At the Olympic Trials eight years later she did a 1:03. Within that period, she endured three years without improving her time at all.

“I did too much when I was young,” she concedes. “From the time I was 12 until I was 14, I was doing nine practices a week. When I was 13, I did three practices a day over the Christmas holidays. Where could I go from there? It was not as if I could go from five practices a week to six or seven. I couldn’t do any more.”

“So what if you are great when you are swimming against other 10-year-olds?” she adds. “Who has the talent and desire has yet to be determined. It’s better to pace yourself. You want to be great when you are 16, 17 or 18.”


Properly timing a swimmer’s training development can be tricky. The rules apply generally, but when it comes to specifics, former world record holder and club coach Sue Anderson found herself repeatedly asking, “Am I doing the right thing for this kid?”

Anderson, the resource development specialist for USA Swimming, recalls two 12-year-old girls she coached at the Scarlet Aquatic Club in New Jersey during the 1990s. Both surpassed Junior National standards when they were 12. Anderson held one back from the senior group and didn’t send her to Junior Nationals the first year she qualified. Anderson pushed the other girl right along, both with training and competition. Neither developed fully as a senior swimmer.

“It’s not a science,” Anderson says. “The only science to it is that you can’t count your chickens when the swimmers are 10 and beating everyone else. It could be because they trained too much. It could be because they were physically more mature and after a few years, others in their age group will catch up. Or it could be because they have real talent for swimming and will continue to develop. You just never know.”

Raedeke agrees. Improvement is never a given, not in swimming or any other sport. Slumps are part of athletics. Their causes can be as hard to pin down as next month’s weather. Problems arise when mechanics or training routines are scrutinized too closely. Very often, neither is the major problem. Nevertheless, athletes, coaches and parents demand answers when all that is needed is patience.

“As you get further into a sport,” Raedeke says, “improvements are harder and harder to come by. We all know this, but when you are the one affected, you want to change things even though the best course of action might be to wait it out.”

Pat Hogan knows a thing or two about waiting it out. In 1996, a swimmer he coached at the Mecklenburg Aquatic Club in North Carolina, Jilen Siroky, made the U.S. Olympic team in the 200m breaststroke as a 14-year-old. Though she continued to swim through college, she never got within three seconds of the time she did in the final of 1996 Olympic Trials. This is not uncommon for girls whose bodies change dramatically in their early teens. Siroky’s started to change immediately after the Olympics.

“She wasn’t the same swimmer,” recalls Hogan, USA Swimming’s managing director for club development.

A change in stroke technique didn’t work, though emphasis on other strokes helped, allowing Siroky to experience once again the joy of improvement. However, she never achieved the level of accomplishment that she did in 1996.

And yet, as Hogan says, “I was as proud of her the years after the Olympics as I was when she made the Olympics. As hard as she worked going into 1996, it was no different in ’97 and ’98. She struggled, but that’s one of the great things about our sport. When you are not improving, you begin to question, ‘Why am I doing this?’ You learn to struggle, and that’s good for kids. They learn a lot. You can’t enjoy the peaks unless you go through the valleys.”

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